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Pentax K10D Review

by Justin Serpico, December 2007

photography by Justin Serpico and Josh Root


The Pentax K10D single-lens reflex (SLR) digital camera is currently the smallest, most inexpensive camera body on the market that has extensive weather and dust seals. The Pentax K10D competes with similarly priced cameras from Canon and Nikon by offering similar 10-megapixel (MP) image quality, similar sensor cleaning, and in-camera image stabilization (2 to 3 f-stops). The Pentax K10D is a lightweight body compared to other cameras with weather sealing (793g with battery vs. the Nikon D200's 920g body).

The Pentax K10D is compatible with older Pentax film lenses (FA, F, and A mounts), in addition to the newer lenses designed for digital SLR bodies (DA and DA* mounts).

The Pentax K10D can be purchased from amazon.com:

Operating Speed

The lag time on this camera is seemingly non-existent. Turn it on and it's ready to go. Press the shutter and it fires. Hit the playback button and an image is displayed even as the camera is writing 16MB RAW files to the card. Maximum "motor drive" speed is 3 frames per second (fps), which is a little slow compared to the 5 fps found on other bodies with comparative statistics (and a higher price tag - the competition is $300-600 more).

The K10D is the first Pentax SLR to support Sonic Drive Motor (SDM) lenses. Having an SDM-compatible body does not imply the loss of body motor. The camera will still work with non-SDM lenses. The K10D in-body motor is fast and powerful, though it is louder than in-lens SDM-type systems.

The K10D's write speed is relatively fast. It has a 12-image buffer when set to RAW image quality, and it generally finishes writing to the card before you can fill it. Plus, even if you fill the buffer in RAW capture, it still fires at 1-1.5 fps as it clears the buffer. Part of this is dependent on the speed of the card; high-speed cards record data much faster than older slower cards. The camera definitely makes use of high speed SD cards more so than previous Pentax DSLR models, which demonstrated minimal difference with higher speed cards. In JPEG mode, the camera has an unlimited buffer. Over 100 photographs can be captured in a burst with no lag. This test was done using a SanDisk Ultra II SD card, which by current standards is not the fastest card.

Controls

The K10D has two control wheels (e-dials) that offer customization. The main dial controls the 6 main modes found on most professional-grade SLRs: P (program), Tv (shutter priority), Av (aperture priority), M (manual), B (bulb), and X (manual flash sync). There are also two proprietary modes only found on some DSLRs: Sv and TAv. Sv refers to sensitivity value and is basically an ISO priority mode, allowing the user to set the ISO and the camera adjusts the aperture and shutter speed. TAv is auto-ISO mode, allowing the user to set both the aperture and shutter speed, while the camera adjusts the ISO to achieve proper exposure. Finally, there is the USER mode that allows settings to be saved into memory.

Unique to Pentax is something called "hyper manual". Debuting in the mid-1990s with the PZ-1P, it is still an innovative feature. Set the camera to M, set the aperture, press the "Green Button" and the camera sets the shutter speed. Do the reverse to get the aperture. This is the base exposure. By simply turning either control wheel you can adjust exposure without resorting to the EV comp button. If you forget the base, the light changes, or if you decide to meter a different area, you can hit the "Green Button" again to regain a base exposure. Hit the AE-L button in this mode and cycle through the corresponding shutter and aperture combinations that maintain that base exposure. This mode works exceptionally well when using spot metering. Simply place the meter over a mid tone, hit the "Green Button", and adjust the exposure to your liking. It also lends well to evaluating the tonal range of a scene quickly.

On the subject of spot metering, the K10D continues the Pentax tradition of placing an exceptionally tight image circle on the spot meter. The PZ-1P had as good (or better) of a spot meter as the top of the line film SLRs of the day, and the K10D from my rather loose test seems to be as good. Other essential controls include the ISO, WB (white balance), Flash, and Drive Mode. The major controls of the K10D are switches and external buttons, but fine tuning via menus doesn't require menu diving. The Fn (Function) button offers quick access to white balance (WB), Flash, ISO, and Drive modes.

When you press Fn, the screen comes up with the four adjustments as points on the control pad. Press the corresponding direction to select one of the four adjustment functions. When the K10D was first released, there was no dedicated ISO button. This was solved with a simple firmware update. Press the OK button and turn the front e-dial at any time; ISO shows up in the viewfinder and changes. While it's not marked, it's there. You can even map ISO to e-dial and have manual ISO adjustment while photographing without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. You can also have two ISO-dedicated shift modes and auto ISO with an ISO limiter. WB controls on the K10D are extensive, and can be adjusted in degrees Kelvin, as well as using the typical WB presets. All modes, including the preset modes and auto, can be fine tuned by adding Green, Amber, Magenta, or Blue in small steps. While on the WB menu, a press of the "Green Button" restores white balance adjustments to default settings. Flash exposure compensation can be controlled via the flash menu. There are several flash modes including red eye reduction and second curtain sync.

LCD Monitor

The K10D features two screens: a basic monochrome top panel display, which shows all current image capturing info, and a 2.5" 210,000 pixel TFT LCD display for image review and menu setting. The TFT allows 20X image magnification on review. You can view single or 9 frame thumbnails, and images can be magnified and opened at the same point on each image, which is useful when comparing focus on several images as you scroll through.

In playback, the K10D features an RGB histogram and flashing highlight and shadow clippings, which aid in avoiding over- or under-exposing the image. The K10D has a digital depth-of-field (DOF) preview switch located on the power button, which allows you to check focus and exposure. This takes a picture but does not save it to the memory card, ultimately cutting back on time spent deleting test photographs. The camera also offers a traditional viewfinder depth-of-field preview. Either option can be set as a custom function.

Viewfinder

The K10D viewfinder is big and bright. There is no tunnel vision in this finder. It covers 95% of the frame at .95X magnification and has an adjustable diopter. This is important not only for comfort, but also for using legacy K and M42 screwmount manual focus lenses. While Pentax doesn't offer matte focusing screens, there are aftermarket options that offer even more accurate manual focusing.

Flash

The K10D has a built-in flash with a guide number of 11 (11m/36ft) at ISO 100. Flash compensation from -2.0 to +1.0 EV can be applied in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments. The maximum flash sync speed is 1/180s, a little slow compared to the 1/250s of many pro bodies but perfectly usable for most photographers. With accessory flashes in P-TTL mode, sync can be as high as 1/4000s. This is helpful for daylight fill applications. The built-in flash is as useful as most on-camera flashes in that it generally will get you a photograph in a pinch, but also has the same drawbacks as any direct flash. It works splendidly as a controller for Pentax wireless P-TTL accessory flashes. The on-camera flash can be set as a controller, or as a controller and active flash while controlling the wireless flash system. With the on-camera flash and a second flash, contrast control sync is very simple.

Memory Cards

The K10D takes SD/SDHC memory cards. While many other professional-grade cameras still use CF, the K10D has taken the step we will probably see other DSLR manufacturers make. Currently, most pro DSLRs still use CF cards. However, SD has some real advantages. Multiple cards take up less space, they don't use pins in the camera, which can bend and be expensive to replace, and they are virtually indestructible.

Batteries

The K10D uses a Lithium Ion battery. The DLI-50, $44, is better known as the NP400, which is used mostly in Minolta models. Several other cameras also use the same battery. Two batteries will last longer than a dedicated weekend of photographing. Pentax lists the life at 500 photographs (50% less with the flash) and my experience is on par or better than this rating. Without flash, I can capture about 1000 images. Your mileage will vary, based mostly on the amount you use the LCD.

Mechanical Construction

The K10D (142 x 101 x 70mm) is slightly smaller than the size of the Canon 30D (144 x 106 x 74mm) or the Nikon D200 (147 x 113 x 74mm), but larger than the K100D (129 x 93 x 70mm), the Pentax *ist D (129 x 95 x 60mm), the Sony A100 (133 x 95 x 71mm), the Canon Digital Rebel XTi (127 x 94 x 65mm), or the Nikon D40 (124 x 94 x 64mm). I have average-sized male hands and it fits extremely well with all buttons in reach and easy to access. The build is on par with the Nikon D200, which is also weather sealed. Other than the polycarbonate body vs. the D200's magnesium body, there really isn't a vast difference. Modern polycarbonates are nearly unbreakable and certainly durable. The K10D has a solid metal chassis and stainless steel lens mount.

The K10D is the only DSLR in this price bracket that is fully weather sealed. It has the same quality sealing found on SLRs priced over $4000. Tolerances are tight on the 72 body and button seals. Some of the sealing is quite visible, such as the sealed connections door. Behind the door you find the PC/Video connection, wired cable release, and AC input. Highlighting the seriousness Pentax placed on the weatherproofing is the lack of a PC flash sync connection. However, the camera can support PC sync using a simple add-on hot shoe adapter.

In poor weather you can avoid using the cable release and opt for a wireless remote, which can be used from both the front and back of the camera. The remote can also be stored in the K10D optional battery grip, which duplicates all major controls in a vertical layout. Another useful feature of the grip is the ability to store an extra memory card. I leave a 512MB emergency card in there in case I find myself without or out of memory. The grip doubles the capture time, stores an optional remote and an extra memory card, and adds a bit of balance when using large-aperture pro lenses. It's weather sealed, assuring you can keep photographing in rain or shine. One of the few quirks of the K10D body is the memory door latch. It has a twist latch with a spring.

Image Quality

JPEG image sharpness "out of the box" on the K10D seems slightly softer than on other similar cameras. This appears to be a JPEG processing issue rather than a design issue of some kind, because RAW images run through PhotoShop (or other RAW converters) showed a fine sharpness and detail level. Auto white balance in fluorescent or tungsten (standard light bulbs) light wasn't great. The camera had a particularly hard time with tungsten light sources and gave a very warm yellow/orange cast to the image. That said, this is a complaint that can be made about many DSLRs on the market today. The manual and custom WB settings on the K10D solve this problem fairly easily. Image noise is very good from ISO 100-400. ISO 800 shows a slight bit more noise, but it isn't particularly bothersome. Like many cameras, once you hit ISO 1600 there is going to be a lot more noise, and the K10D is no exception. The K10D has almost no latitude, thus at ISO 1600 if you expose just to the point of not blowing out the highlights, it will usually be very clean. Overall, it is capable of balancing image detail with image noise, and thus the K10D compares favorably with its competitors in this area.

Shake Reduction

For a lot of photographers, one of the main selling points of the K10D will be its Shake Reduction system. Unlike Canon and Nikon with their in-lens stabilization, Pentax has gone the route of Sony/Konica-Minolta and created an in-body system. The advantage to this is very obvious. Every one of your lenses becomes a "stabilized" lens, without the weight or cost associated with in-lens IS systems. A 20-year-old manual focus lens will see the same improvement as a brand new lens will. The claims regarding these stabilization systems are almost universally exaggerated. Similar to your buddy who swears he can take sharp photos hand held at 1/2 of a second, the truth is not quite as miraculous. However, they will allow you to use a shutter speed that is 2-3 stops slower than you would normally hand hold. The Pentax K10D is no exception; it works very well. The average user will not see any difference in results between a in-lens system and the Pentax in-body system. Some claim that the in-body systems just cannot keep up as well with long fast telephoto lenses. However, there aren't any reliable test results to back this up. The short of it is that the Pentax Shake Reduction system is a great help when photographing in low light.

Choosing a Lens

Pentax has a wide variety of manual and auto focus wide-angle lenses for digital and 35mm film cameras. All Pentax DSLR cameras currently have an APS-C sized sensor that result in a 1.5x focal length multiplier. The Pentax K10D is backwards-compatible, meaning that lenses designed for the 35mm film bodies will work on the digital bodies. If you don't feel like carrying the extra weight of lenses that were designed to cover a larger area than the K10D's sensor, Pentax has also designed DA and DA* lenses specifically for their APS-C sensor digital cameras. These lenses are smaller and lighter because they are designed for the digital camera's smaller sensor size. The Pentax DA* series of lenses are weather-resistant and are tightly sealed for use in rain or dusty conditions.

The following are photo.net's lens suggestions for a variety of applications:

Compatibility with Older Pentax Lenses

The Pentax K10D is compatible with older Pentax film lenses (FA, F, and A mounts). Due to the body having built-in image stabilization, older lenses designed for film will benefit from 2-3 stops of extra stabilization on the Pentax digital SLR bodies. These include shift lenses, fast wide-angle primes, and even those old screw mount lenses. Your old equipment can still be used to its potential and beyond.

For more information about depth of field and digital cameras, read Depth of Field and the Digital Domain.

Compared to the Pentax K100D

The K10D offers higher resolution at 10MP, compared to the K100D's 6MP. Aside from MP, the main difference between the Pentax K10D and the K100D is the weather sealing. The K10D offers slightly better exposure compensation, from -3 to +3 EV, compared to the K100D's -2 to +2 EV. The K100D uses 4 AA batteries, while the K10D uses a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery. AA batteries have a shorter lifetime and don't operate as well in cold weather. However, they are easier to replace than a Lithium-Ion battery while traveling. The K100D is slightly smaller and lighter, 660g compared to the K10D's 793g. Both offer in-camera shake reduction, though only the K10D offers dust and weather resistant seals.

The K100D is ideal if compactness and light weight are important. You can take the K100D along on your vacation, or a trip around town when you think that you might want to take pictures.

Compared to Nikon and Canon

I currently use both Nikon and Pentax because Pentax bodies offer more value for the money. Pentax also offers a nice selection of excellent prime lenses, some of which are regarded as among the best ever made. Unlike some other systems, Pentax engineers backwards compatibility into its current and future equipment, including lenses with in-lens motors that still work on older cameras.

It is not a perfect system. Pentax is a smaller and cautious company, and it is a niche company. While Pentax at one time produced a lens lineup that matched all the other Japanese brands, it has scaled back in the last few years as it switched from film technology to digital. At this time Pentax covers the 10-200mm range with various professional quality zooms and primes, but above 200mm the lens lineup gets thin. This won't affect most people, but if you photograph sports or wildlife, and don't have existing glass, it is something to consider.

If you already have a large collection of either Nikon or Canon lenses, the question remains are you interested in buying into another system? If you are a serious photo enthusiast, chances are you will be collecting lenses from one brand or another. The photo.net article on "Building a Digital SLR System" can help you figure out what you may need for your collection.

Key Pentax K10D Features

  • 10MP CCD-shift type "Shake Reduction" sensor, (23.5 x 15.7mm)
  • 1/180s flash sync speed
  • 11-point AF sensor, 9 cross-type sensors
  • 100-1600 ISO range
  • 3 fps continuous burst speed; unlimited JPEG, 9 RAW
  • 2.5" 210,000 pixel LCD monitor
  • 793g with battery

Conclusion

The Pentax K10D is a high-quality camera with some innovative features not seen on other bodies in its price range. The K10D is the lightest smallest body that has extensive weather and dust sealing. Its backwards compatibility gives a photographer access to thousands of Pentax K-mount lenses from the past four decades. Default JPEG performance could be an issue, particularly for "pixel peeper" obsessive types. However, adjusting the JPEG processing settings will help significantly, as will capturing in RAW. For available-light photographers, the lack of an ISO 3200 setting is painful, particularly when using lenses slower than f/2.8.

The current Pentax system is not as extensive as Canon's or Nikon's, particularly when looking at lenses with motor-driven focus. However, if the system meets your needs, the quality will more than meet your expectations.

Where to Buy

Amazon.com offers the Pentax K10D, 18-55mm kit, (compare prices), and the body alone Pentax K10D, (compare prices). The 18-55mm kit lens is adequate for photography on a bright sunny day or with flash. For indoor or available-light photography, buy the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC for Pentax and Samsung, (compare prices). The Pentax DA 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED WR, (compare prices) (review), is an inexpensive lens with a long reach, acceptable for outdoor sports photography.

More

Example Photographs

Pentax FA 28-70mm f/2.8, set at 28mm (same angle of view as 42mm on a 35mm film camera), f/13, 1/50s, ISO 320, aperture priority +1 EV compensation for snow/fog. This photo was taken on the summit of Blue Mountain in the Adirondacks, NY, just after sunrise.

Pentax DA* 50-135mm f/2.8 ED IF SDM, set at 70mm (same angle of view as 105mm on a 35mm film camera), f/2.8, ISO 1250. Albany River Rats Keith Aucoin looking to pass around a defender.

Pentax DA 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED WR (review), set at 50mm (same angle of view as 75mm on a 35mm film camera), f/4.5, 1/180s, ISO 400. The K10D's weatherproofing was a big advantage in this rainstorm. However, photographers should keep in mind that just because their camera body is sealed, it doesn't mean that their lens is sealed. The 50-200 I was using for this capture was not sealed, so I had to take care to not let it get drenched.

Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4.0 ED AL (review), set at 29mm (same angle of view as 43.5mm on a 35mm film camera), f/5.6, 1/120s, ISO 200. The response time of the K10D is quick enough for fast action, particularly if you pre-focus as I did on this situation. However, using a faster shutter speed and probably a higher ISO to eliminate the motion blur would have made for a better image.

Pentax FA 28-70mm f/2.8, set at 31mm (same angle of view as 46.5mm on a 35mm film camera), f/11, 1/30s, ISO 400, hyperfocal, manual exposure. This is a tripod-mounted 5-image panorama, taken on the summit of Rooster Comb at sunrise.

Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4.0 ED AL (review), set at 34mm (same angle of view as 51mm on a 35mm film camera), f/6.7, 1/180s, ISO 100. The K10D's color reproduction is accurate without being overbearing. This is a nice switch from the *ist/K100D, which many felt defaulted to over-saturated colors


Text ©2007 Justin Serpico, edited by Josh Root and Hannah Thiem. All photos, except as otherwise indicated, ©2007 Justin Serpico and Josh Root. Most of the photos were taken with the Pentax K10D, Pentax DFA 100mm f/2.8 Macro, Pentax DA 50-200mm f/4-5.6 ED WR (review), and the Pentax DA 16-45mm f/4.0 ED AL (review).

Article created December 2007

Readers' Comments


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Jerry Schneir , January 23, 2008; 07:12 P.M.

Nice review. I purchase my K10D in November 2006 and have run about 4000 images. I certainly agree with the problem with white balance under tungsten lighting. Sometimes it is easy to adjust but often it is not. In those few cases I do not find it easy to set a WB that yields true colors.

I recently purchased a 50mm f1.7 AF Pentax prime lens and it is WONDERFUL. I had moved to the Tamron 18-250 which I enjoyed but found I needed something a bit faster. I am finding that I now rarely put the Tamron on the camera.

Jerry Schneir

Duane Mills , January 26, 2008; 04:52 P.M.

Excellent review but I feel that it shortchanges Pentax a little. In the film days Pentax was a considered serious player by a huge number of amateur and professional photographers alike who cut their teeth on the K1000. Prior to the launch of the K10D, Pentax was at risk of being marginalized in the growing DSLR competitive field. However, last year Pentax and Hoya began a merger that gives the Pentax brand much needed financial clout. Just a few days ago Pentax launched two major weapons in the DSLR market. One conventional bomb and one nuke!!! Wow!!! Two new DSLR's based on the K10 design. The new K200D and the K20D offer 10.2 MP and 14.6 MP consecutively. The K20 utilizes a CMOS sensor and both of these new weather-sealed, feature rich platforms are certainly disruptive forces to Canon and Nikon's market share. The current DSLR product offering by Pentax is a range of 6 models from the K110D to the K20D. Lookout Canon and Nikon!!! The big 2 just became the BIG 3!!!!

Image Attachment: 2007-12-27 025.JPG

Chetan Dighe , January 29, 2008; 02:48 P.M.

Great review for a great product.

I bought my K10D in may 07, and till date (Jan 08), have crossed 9000+ shots.

Great camera, all features great, and especially the fact that all my old manual lenses work equally well if not better, comes as a great relief.

You are right - even my Tamron 28-200 is not the most frequently found lens on my body, it is 50/1.4 original pentax. 50/1.4 is amazingly cool, sharp, fast, you name it. The kit lens is just that, but works great outdoors with adequate light.

In camera stabilization works well, though I have seen comparison shots from nikon and canon in-lens stabilization, which seemed to be sharper. But then, I am not paying per lens for IS, so I am ok with it. When I need that great sharp shot, I carry my tripod.

Happy shooting.

Vytautas Slenderis , June 26, 2008; 03:32 P.M.

Very fine camera. The things I love about it are mostly these: DEPENDABLY BUILT, DUST AND WEATHER SEALING. LONG SHUTTER LIFE. Sv MODE. I began to like it especially for wedding photography, where the lighting conditions change constantly and there is not really much time going into menus to change the sensitivity. REALLY EFFECTIVE STABILIZATION and AVAILABLE WITH ALL MY FA LENSES! LOW PRICE TAG. VERY ACCURATE AF. (This wasn't so when I bought the camera. I went the way, widely advertised on the Internet, and adjusted the AF in the service menu of the camera. That took a few minutes versus what it would have taken if I were to send the camera to Pentax. It has been several months that I am working with the adjusted AF and it has NEVER failed me, the camera is extremely accurate now.)


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